August 3, 2015

Lean on Popular Culture Insight - Tips on Broaching Delicate Topics

The sixth tip in a series of tips on How to Broach Delicate Topics is to:  
Lean on Popular Culture for Guidance and Insight 

Through the use of multimedia like television news, advertisements, sitcoms, movies, music, and radio shows, Facilitators of cross-cultural training programs can highlight various elements of cultural understanding without the use of lectures. Three different types of activities I have planned using popular media include: 


Guided Discussion and Reflection
This approach requires reading and/or watching a related piece of media, breaking into groups, discussing and reflecting. To use this approach, the facilitator would:
  • Choose the theme of discussion.
  • Find the theme in current magazines, newspapers, television ads and shows, movies, popular music and other media. The material should accurately portray the cultural behavior or mannerism.
  • Request the groups to read/watch the material and discuss the topic based on two or three guided questions.
  • The groups can present their findings to the larger group in the debrief.
  • Theme ideas - the confusing, not-so-relaxing American vacation or who pays when going out to eat (Friends TV show clip, middle of post).
Challenging Media Stereotypes
This activity helps participants to understand how stereotypes in media can give us the wrong impression of reality. This activity can be handled in one of two ways:
  • American media misconceptions. Have participants identify stereotypes of Americans in US and their native country's media. Ask them to challenge those stereotypes. How do those stereotypes impact their approach to Americans? (This discussion is best facilitated by a person who has lived in the US for many years.)
  • Native country media study. Similar to the previous example, have participants discuss stereotypes of their own country natives in either their own country's media and/or American media. How do those stereotypes impact their fellow citizens interact with each other? How do those stereotypes influence foreigners thoughts about their country and people? (For instance, do all Indians dance at work or wear fancy saris while doing chores?)
  • The lure of coming to the US has been with Keralites for decades. This song sequence from the 80s gave that generation this impression of the US.
Learn New Things:
For those unfamiliar with US culture, using videos and magazine articles related to the topic of the activity is an effective way of teaching the new concepts. I have used two approaches to applying this method:
  • American Sports: Groups of four or five are assigned a sport, ideally a sport that is not so popular in their native culture (like American football or baseball) and is given time to research it. They are to present a small demo on the sport, discussing a little about it's importance in current American culture and a role play on how to play the game.
  • Introduction to American Holidays and Small Talk: The class is divided into smaller groups and given materials on particular holidays including written material and videos to watch. Groups pair the lesson on small talk topics along with the holidays lesson and create role plays on conversations they could have with American clients about particular holidays like Fourth of July (Independence Day) or Memorial Day. (In addition to small talk lessons, participants also may learn new idioms, phrases, slang or vocabulary peculiar to American English.

    A few examples of videos used to stimulate discussions include:

These are just a few examples of how media can be used in cross-cultural training. Feel free to share more of your examples below!

End of Tip 6
<--Read Tip 5 - Blame it on the Culture


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